The Importance of Father Figures in Star Wars

Somewhere at the back of the story, almost unnoticed beneath the blaze of blaster fire and the hum of lightsabers, lies a simple truth of Star Wars. Father figures have a huge impact on the galaxy. In this case, many are simply mentors that take on the role of compassionate guide but also teacher of discipline. Qui-Gon Jinn influenced both Obi-Wan and Anakin. Obi-Wan influenced both Anakin and Luke. In the end, these influences will forever change a galaxy.

Qui-Gon Jinn

Qui-Gon as Obi-Wan’s Father Figure

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Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan share a moment on Naboo

Qui-Gon Jinn’s guidance of Obi-Wan was well established by the time of The Phantom Menace. They were like father and son, partners, and friends. Qui-Gon was determined, strong and had an insight into people. He taught Obi-Wan the Jedi way well, but also encouraged independent thought. Obi-Wan knew his mentor well enough to challenge and argue with him, but also was taught well enough to apologize when he felt he had gone too far. Qui-Gon’s faith in him meant a lot to him, in spite of their disagreements.

The fatherly relationship had a rough start according to the Jedi Apprentice series. This is because his previous padawan, Xanatos, had abandoned the Jedi, failing his trial and turning to the Dark Side. This left a deep wound. But as fate through them together on missions, Qui-Gon came to accept it. Their relationship wasn’t perfect (none are), but they taught each other. Qui-Gon taught Obi-Wan to be a Jedi, how to be compassionate and when to bend a rule. Obi-Wan taught Qui-Gon more about people, especially boys.

Qui-Gon as Anakin’s Father Figure

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Qui-Gon gives Anakin just a hint of Jedi training advice before the podrace

By the time Qui-Gon met Anakin, Obi-Wan was well along in his training. Qui-Gon knew he was ready for the trials though he had not expressed as much to him. As soon as he met Anakin he encouraged his insight and compassionate instinct while not undermining his mother. While he knew allowing him to enter a race on the behalf of the Queen and himself was dangerous, he didn’t do so without foreknowledge. Anakin had Jedi gifts, and he gave him a few tips to start with.

After the race when another child insisted Anakin had cheated Anakin (unsurprisingly) lashed out at having his honor challenged (and because he was upset his new friends were leaving.) Qui-Gon gently disciplined and gave the boy guidance on how to deal with such situations.

Obi-Wan Kenobi

Obi-Wan learned a lot from his father figure, Qui-Gon Jinn. He was compassionate and capable. He had learned to discipline his own emotions. He wasn’t as flexible as Qui-Gon regarding the rules (possibly the times disobeyed and regretted it had something to do with this.

Obi-Wan as Anakin’s Father Figure

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Obi-Wan got shoved into the role of father figure to Anakin Skywalker very abruptly. Fulfilling his promise to Qui-Gon who had championed the boy, would’ve been a great challenge for even a more experienced master. Kenobi had been raised in the Jedi temple from birth. He hadn’t faced the injustice of the galaxy until he was almost a teen. Anakin was raised a slave and experienced it daily from birth. But Obi-Wan did believe in him. He did his best to teach as Qui-Gon would have, with compassion and patience.

Obi-Wan and Anakin, coming from such difference places, often didn’t see eye to eye. Knowing that Anakin had the best of intentions but that they often led him to disobey, left him at a loss as to know how to reach him. Still, he did train Anakin Skywalker to become a capable Jedi Knight. He was disappointed for Anakin those times he failed at following the Jedi code because he knew how very much Anakin wanted to be one.

“You’re the closest thing I have to a father.”
“Then why don’t you listen to me?”
“I am trying.”

Anakin and Obi-Wan in Attack of the Clones

Obi-Wan was devastated to lose Anakin to the Dark Side. It hurt enough when he thought he had died defending the temple. Losing him to the Sith was worse. But this failure is not one that was truly all on Obi-Wan.

Palpatine was like the doting ‘alternate father’ who basically spoiled the child for his own ends. Where Obi-Wan encouraged patience, humility and control, Palpatine encouraged impatience, arrogance and unleashing his worst emotions. While pretending to be a kind friend he actually encouraged him to reveal his pain to him as a sympathetic ear, then manipulated him by subtly poking his emotional wounds. Obi-Wan no doubt realized this, too late. He did blame himself for failing to protect Anakin because this is what a father (or Jedi Master) should do for a son or apprentice.

Obi-Wan Kenobi vanished to Tatooine, taking Anakin’s son to the Lars and waited. He hoped to one day train Luke to challenge the Emperor. It took only months before the news reached Tatooine that a mysterious figure named Darth Vader was terrorizing the galaxy and that that his former padawan lived. But he had his mission, guard the boy, learn how to become one with the Force, and hopefully one day train him.

Obi-Wan as Luke Skywalker‘s Mentor

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Obi-Wan gives Luke his father’s lightsaber.

Obi-Wan started Luke on his journey. As a baby he had protected him and brought him to his family. As a young man, he handed him his father’s lightsaber and gave him a very brief (and definitely truth bending) story of how his father had died. He had to immediately start encouraging patience and diplomacy (in the form of trying to buy off drunken bar patrons, and negotiating for passage to Alderaan.) Once aboard the Millennium Falcon and safely away, he began giving Luke some of the basic lessons any youngling at the Jedi temple would’ve learned.

Sadly, he didn’t get much time at this phase of the training. It was only after he was physically struck down that he would continue guiding Luke, first verbally, a quiet whisper at key moments. Then as he progressed he appeared in spirit. In this fashion he would guide Luke to Yoda, who introduced Luke to the more technical aspects of the Force such as levitation, stamina and spiritual tests. Not surprisingly Luke had to overcome disbelief, as unlike other Jedi he hadn’t had these abilities demonstrated to him.

Owen Lars as Luke’s Father Figure

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Luke’s Uncle, Owen Lars, loved him as his own son and raised him as such. He insisted on chores and discipline. Luke and he clashed but Luke couldn’t have known Owen had reason to fear for him so deeply. He kept Luke well away from the “crazy old hermit.” He knew that his nephew took after his father. While he didn’t know Anakin personally and well, he knew of his step mothers stories. He certainly knew that whatever his ultimate fate, Obi-Wan had led him to it, however unintentionally.

“What if this Obi-Wan person comes looking for him?”
“He won’t. I don’t think that person exists anymore. He died about the same time as your father.”
“He knew my father?”

Luke Skywalker and Owen Lars, A New Hope

In spite of Owen’s desire to not discuss Anakin, Luke wanted to know about his father. So when the droids led him to Obi-Wan Kenobi, and he revealed that Anakin was a Jedi, Luke was excited. This was much better than Owen’s simple ‘navigator on a spice freighter’ story. That said Luke wasn’t ready to reject his Uncle’s fatherly discipline and instilled loyalty when Obi-Wan invited him to Alderaan. No, he had to be forced to leave by losing his family.

“I want to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like my father.”

Luke in A New Hope

Anakin Skywalker as Luke’s Father

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Anakin finds out Padme is pregnant. He was excited at the news he was to be a father.

“This is the happiest day of my life.”

“Our baby is a blessing.”

Anakin in Revenge of the Sith
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It’s odd to think that Anakin Skywalker guided his son, but even though Anakin as Vader didn’t know he lived, Luke knew he had a father. Luke’s longing to know his Father and revelation he had been a Jedi is what began Luke’s journey. And the example of what had happened to his father is what helped Luke resist the dark side in the end. Palpatine was able to pretend to be Anakin’s friend when seducing him. He had no such option with Luke.

“I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”

Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi

It’s another not so subtle fact that Anakin did, even as Vader, protect him to some extent. Luke may well have sensed this and realized his Father could still be saved. He risked incurring the Emperor’s wrath by killing Prince Xixor (who he was ordered to stay away from) when the head of Black Sun tried to kill Luke. He made sure the order was to capture alive, not kill Luke. And while maiming Luke was terrible, it’s far less than he did to others of comparable ability and threat, and less than Dooku did to him.

Anakin as Leia’s Father

Anakin of course, did not know about Leia. There was a marked difference in how he treated her as Vader because of this. However, after his death he did appear to her once in spirit form to apologize. While initially she didn’t accept it, she gradually came to realize that he did have good in him, and that her fear and hatred of him could put her at risk of the Dark Side. She forgave him, realizing she had to look at the good in him in order to avoid making his mistakes.

Vindication of the Father Figure

Anakin Skywalker never entirely forgot Obi-Wan Kenobi’s teachings. Thoughts of his legacy and what he would leave behind drifted into Vader’s thoughts, even though he resisted them. While his reasons for wanting Luke were selfish as Darth Vader, they were still specifically based on Luke being his son. His selfishness regarding Padme that caused his fall had started as love. So too buried under his selfish desire for Luke to help him overthrow the Emperor and rule, lay a buried spark of love of his family.

Luke redeems Anakin by reminding his father who he is, who he meant to be. He does this in part just by being his son, the son of Anakin and Padme. But that alone isn’t enough. It also took Jedi training. And while Yoda played apart, I’d say Obi-Wan played the larger. Obi-Wan had guarded and set him on this journey, even though he had no expectation at this point that anything remained of Anakin Skywalker to save. Anakin recognized Obi-Wan, his own father figure and a far more kind one than he had now, in his son. He saw it in his training, in his beliefs.

“Obi-Wan once thought as you do.”
“Obi-Wan has taught you well.”

Anakin Skywalker as Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi.

Qui-Gon Jinn trained Obi-Wan, and gave hope to a small boy named Anakin Skywalker. He disciplined both (in Jedi Apprentice, and The Phantom Menace novelization and cut scenes.) Obi-Wan in turn did the same for Anakin and to some extent Luke. When Luke won his father back, he was not acting as the nephew of Owen Lars, isolationist moisture farmer. He was acting as Jedi, set on the path by Obi-Wan Kenobi. Anakin saw this and remembered and regretted. “It is too late for me, son” are not the words of a man proud of what he has done or is doing.

Anakin’s past as a Jedi inspired his son to become one. Obi-Wan’s training of Luke would win back the son, friend, apprentice and brother he’d once lost. When Anakin Skywalker killed the Emperor and saved his son, he fulfilled the Prophecy of the Chosen One, vindicating Qui-Gon’s belief in who he was as well as Obi-Wan’s training. It was late, but it was effective – the Prophecy never claimed why or how the Force would be balanced, in fact, it didn’t even say he needed to be a Jedi to do it.

After the Films

While Qui-Gon Jinn’s influence is largely forgotten in a direct sense, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s continues through Luke Skywalker’s rebuilding of the Jedi and the lore that is recovered. Anakin Skywalker’s influence (both good and bad) will continue to affect his son as he takes the lessons of his fall and redemption and applies them to all that he meets and every Jedi that he will train. Leia even names her youngest son, Anakin and Luke names his son Ben, in hopes they will continue in the best of who these mentors taught them. Their legacy continues, whether their names are known or forgotten.

Anakin Skywalker dies and becomes a Force spirit, joining Obi-Wan and Yoda.

References:

  • The Phantom Menace (including DVD/blu-ray cut scenes)
  • Attack of the Clones
  • Revenge of the Sith
  • A New Hope
  • The Empire Strikes Back
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Star Wars the Radio Drama
  • The Phantom Menace Novelization
  • Darth Plagueis novel
  • Jedi Apprentice Series
  • Jedi Quest Series
  • Revenge of the Sith (novelization)
  • Lone Wolf (short story)
  • Kenobi novel
  • Darth Vader and the Lost Command
  • Empire comics
  • Truce at Bakura
  • Tatooine Ghost
  • Dark Empire 2 and Empire’s End
  • The Essential Guide to the Force: Jedi VS Sith
  • Star Wars Insider 81 Obi-Wan Strikes Back (Ewan McGregor interview)